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Elevating faculty affairs’ impact on institutional success: three takeaways from a recent convening

Topics in Higher Education

What is the role of faculty affairs in promoting teaching effectiveness? How can a centralized faculty affairs department support faculty professional development and research? What systems do colleges and universities have in place to assist with faculty on-boarding, mentoring, and career advancement?

Despite the prevalence of these issues, faculty affairs leaders have historically lacked a national convening organization focused exclusively on faculty affairs. Last month, the Interfolio Convening on Faculty Affairs Research (iCFAR) brought together faculty affairs leaders and researchers to discuss both research and practice in this growing area of importance in higher education. At the convening, Interfolio’s Chief Client Officer Carol Gersten presented results from the FAIR (Faculty Affairs Inventory Research) study—an analysis of how faculty affairs departments at more than 50 institutions present their value to faculty.

The convening provided an opportunity for experts to share insights on best practices from their institutions and strategies to elevate faculty affairs as a critical service within institutions. Several participants lamented the few opportunities for faculty affairs leaders to meet, exchange ideas, and consider collaborations across universities. Four speakers highlighted the following key aspects of faculty affairs.

#1 Catalyzing Instructional Innovation

Lindsay Wheeler, Assistant Director of STEM Education Initiatives at the University of Virginia, discussed her research concerning faculty affairs’ impact on instructional quality and student learning. Among her findings was that an excessive focus on lecture format may actually be detrimental to student learning outcomes, with a disproportionate effect on underrepresented minority students.

In response, UVA faculty affairs leaders are evaluating course-level learning and faculty professional development to help professors identify innovative teaching practices that can be applied in the classroom. Professor Wheeler’s research shows that faculty affairs can play a constructive role in helping faculty branch out from traditional instructional practices such as lecturing.

#2 Propelling Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Academe

Jaime Lester, Interim Director and Professor of the Higher Education Program at George Mason University, explored the various types of faculty affairs support and programs that institutions commonly offer. She emphasized that, currently, programming tends to be either one-size fits all or heavily focused on early-career faculty.  Moreover, underrepresented and female faculty are more consistently tapped for service/mentoring/committee work that isn’t typically credited/considered in the promotion process.

#3 A Faculty Hiring and Search Engine

Autumn Reed, Assistant Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), shared best practices for improving faculty diversity and UMBC’s application of the Interfolio Faculty Search module, including inclusive search processes—such as critical comparison of applicant pool diversity data to national statistics on the academic labor force, and explicit shared criteria for evaluating faculty job applicants—improving the campus climate, family-friendly policies, mentoring, and career advancement programs.

To help implement these best practices, Reed then discussed specific steps that institutions can take to improve faculty diversity. For example, she outlined how diversity hiring recruitment plans, STRIDE peer education, postdoctoral fellowships for faculty diversity, and Interfolio’s Faculty Search tool can create a more inclusive search process.

iCFAR included faculty and leaders from the University of Virginia; University of Maryland, Baltimore County; George Mason University; Virginia Tech; Virginia Commonwealth University; American University; Strayer University; University of Maryland, College Park; University of North Carolina; American Association of Colleges & Universities; the American Council on Education; and the American Institutes for Research.

 

This blog concludes a three-part series that explored themes in faculty affairs, including research into unique and common practices and attributes of faculty affairs departments.